Heart Disease in Dogs: Signs to Watch-Out For

Heart disease affects approximately 10% of all dogs at some point of their lives.  95% of these are usually acquired later in life (as opposed to being born with the problem).  Typically, there are no symptoms of heart disease and most people find out their dogs have a heart condition at their regularly scheduled ‘check-up’; when their vet tells them their dog has a murmur.  Generally, the body will be able to cope with the heart disease without treatment.  But, at some point the disease will override the coping mechanisms and tilt into “Congestive Heart Failure”: where fluid starts to build up in the lungs.  If you know your dog has a pre-existing heart condition, then these are the signs to watch out for:

  • Restlessness and discomfort during the night
  • Reluctance to go for a walk
  • Lagging behind or tiring more easily on walks
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Coughing
  • Deep, heavy, laboured breaths with abdominal effort (belly rises and falls as well as the chest)
  • May seem depressed or be more withdrawn
  • Decreased appetite

If you’ve been told that your dog has heart disease, the most important thing you can monitor at home is the “Resting Respiratory Rate”: essentially how many breaths it takes in one minute while lying-down/sleeping.   A consistent increase in the RRR is typically the first sign that your dog may be developing congestive heart failure.

Resting Respiratory Rate:

    • When your dog is lying down and resting, count how many times the chest rises and falls in one minute (1 breath= inhale+exhale).
    • Determine what your dogs ‘baseline’ RRR is by counting this on 3 separate days in 1 week and taking the average
    • Then you can take the RRR weekly-monthly.  If the RRR measured in any week is consistently more than 20% higher than the baseline RRR, you should call your veterinarian.
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